When It’s Hard to Give Thanks

Originally published on April 7, 2014.

Joy is the particular province of the broken-hearted. It sounds contradictory, but it is one more paradox of the Kingdom of God, in which He turns everything we are accustomed to upside-down…or maybe it is Right-side-up, after all.

Jesus said it to the crowds gathered on the hillsides: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” (Matthew 5:3-4, The Message) This is a joy that comes in the face of loss, when you go looking for Something More than this world, and find God’s presence. It is completely counter-intuitive (and utterly true) that those who suffer the most can find the deepest joy, because their very loss is an unexpected opportunity to discover the riches of God’s provision.

Joy shines brightest in people who are struggling to survive in one way or another, who face silence and uncertainty and grief, and realize that there is still Someone close who whispers words of comfort to the soul and does not sleep, and He is Enough, after all. It is the secret the itinerant Church-planter Paul learned, amid the dangers of traveling over ten thousand miles through the ancient civilized world in the course of his adult life — often bone-weary, in constant danger, harried and pursued, driven out of town and stoned and threatened. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13) When all my supply runs out and I am entirely dependent on God’s, then I am coming to the heart of what it means to have a relationship with The Almighty. “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand  and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:15-16) 

It is easy to celebrate and give thanks when things are going well for us, and of course God delights in hearing our enjoyment of His blessings. But if we wait until we feel happy to count our blessings then aren’t we only putting a label on our response to the circumstances? Anyone can look at the sun and say it is a good thing it is shining; may as well look at a cloudy day and observe that we don’t like the rain. When the needy and the grieving look at their world and choose hard to praise God, to give thanks for His grace and kindness to them regardless of painful circumstances, they are bowing to His rule, giving a sacrifice that costs something. God holds that gift precious, and joy kindles and endures in the offering. This is beyond response to circumstances; this is the obedience and surrender and trust of a genuine Christ-follower.

In the face of any grief there is always a new morning, and the world all around, shelter and food and friends, and the small kindnesses of others– unaccountable blessings un-looked for, and unceasing. “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.” (Psalm 3:5) Accepting those small things with the simplicity of a child, choosing to give thanks (because even they are grace undeserved) gives Him our undivided attention– opens the door to God’s loving presence in all the seasons of life. The Giver is always worthy of our praise, and we can keep on counting all the evidence of His love.

God doesn’t avoid or ignore pain. He sings a louder song over it. And He invites His hurting people to sing with Him.

Aubrey Sampson, THe Louder Song

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“Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to His name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.” (Hebrews 13:15-16)

New Every Day

Somehow, counting out these blessings each day has a vulnerable feel to it. How many good things does the heart need, to be able to call it a happy day? Who am I depending on for my good, really? What do I actually believe about a sovereign God? And how easily a harsh word or a deep hurt or a lingering anxiety overwhelms any number of blessings. Even this sobering freedom that I get to choose how my heart is growing– I can respond to any situation with a thankful heart, or not, and it is sad how often my first instinctive reaction is something other than gratitude. No question about it, when we consciously place ourselves in the radiance of God’s presence, we can see more clearly the gap between what we believe and what we live.

Bending my will to this spiritual discipline of gratitude keeps peeling away the layers of self-sufficiency and wish-to-control, and as one day’s list gives way to the blank page of the next, it’s remarkable how much giving thanks feels like trust. My heart can still stutter hard, knowing that provision for today does not guarantee the same for tomorrow. The unknown can loom large in the night, and problems take on nightmare quality under the lens of What If. It is here that I have to choose again…. Can I trust the Grace that was enough for today to be big enough for tomorrow’s uncertainties? And it’s like I can hear Jesus saying, “…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34) I get that there’s an assurance of troubles, and it makes good sense not to spend your worry before it’s due, but this is hardly encouraging news for wannabe-thankfuls. I have to back up and read over and again the most important part of Jesus’ sentence: “…seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow…” (Matthew 6:33) My focus on living as a Christ-follower keeps me living in the present under His care. My thankfulness for the great gift of salvation and trust in the Father’s goodness gives my heart peace.

So it is both what I desire and what God provides that is guarding today and tomorrow. And I can see how when I want His presence more than anything else, these daily blessings are like manna, everyday evidence that He is here with me. I pick up each one and give thanks, believing that it will be enough for whatever I am facing today. And tomorrow will have its own simple graces, along with whatever troubles may come. I can trust Him in this. Each day Jesus promises to me again, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The prophet Jeremiah saw it clearly: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) God’s gifted goodness is fresh and fully abundant each morning as I rise. And His faithfulness ensures enough for all the days to come. So I choose yet again to trust, and I walk through another day with eyes wide open, looking forall the ways my Father loves me.

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The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to You, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all His ways and faithful in all He does.

Psalm 145:14-17

We have no idea what it is that God is saving us from every single day we wake up with breath.

Shelly Miller

Polite Lepers and the Power of Choosing Happiness

Originally published November 15, 2017.

One of my favorite Bible stories in Sunday School when I was a child was the ten lepers who call out to Jesus to have mercy on them; He tells them to go to the Temple to show the priests they were healed and off they run, eager to make the proper sacrifices so that they could rejoin their families and get their lives back. But one of them turns around and runs back to Jesus to say thank you. I can still remember that line of men strung out across the flannelgraph board, their colorful robes flapping around their legs, and that one figure kneeling at the feet of Jesus, his hands and face turned upwards in worship. The story definitely has a strong visual appeal, and it probably resonates with children everywhere who are being taught polite manners: even Jesus thinks it is important that people say thank you!

Now that I am older, other aspects of the story intrigue me though, like the fact that all were healed, regardless of whether they said thanks or not. God’s mercy was lavish and free…no strings attached. And the fact that the man who came back was a foreigner is striking, because it is probably the real reason for his gratitude. The Jews were used to being God’s special people, and it made sense to them, both that God would heal them and that the Temple priest was the one who would declare them clean. The Samaritan though, was fully aware of his own unworthiness to be touched by God, and knew that he was not welcome to offer his gifts of thankfulness in the Temple. He saw clearly that the healing was at Jesus’ command, and returned to give thanks where it was due; it was his faith that Jesus was commending. All ten were healed of their skin condition, but one came back to kneel at Jesus’ feet, and had his heart healed as well. Obviously, the lesson for us is much larger than having nice manners.

I used to have this crazy poster on my fridge that I printed out, mostly because I needed to think about the words every day, in order to wrap my brain around them: “Everyone gets to decide how happy they want to be…because everyone gets to decide how grateful they are willing to be.” (Ann VosKamp)”

Everyone gets to decide how happy they want to be? Even the lepers and the lonely?…. all the ones that get stuck in situations beyond their control? And what if there is no family to run home to, and the healing doesn’t come? That’s the hard ceiling on free will, finding out that in so many ways you are not actually free, and have no choices in the matter. And who in this life gets to decide on a quantity of happiness, as if they were window shopping in a mall? Isn’t everyone allotted some random measure of happiness in this life, and some people are just more blessed than others? There is an inequity of circumstances that we all have learned to put up with, ever since we were toddlers and discovered the painful truth that we can’t always have what someone else has. And right about that same time we laid the responsibility of our happiness on the shoulders of circumstance, let it roll on the unpredictable winds of fortune. I see how we often live on that thin knife-edge, balanced between hope that things will go our way, and fear that everything will crash down around our ears– can see how we lean toward worry or toward control, trying to manage it all. And some of us just give up on the trying, and do whatever we can to pretend everything is going to work out fine. The world we live in makes no sense of the first part of that sentence.

But the truth of the second part skewers through the uncertainty of that first bit, anchoring it firmly. “Everyone gets to decide how happy they want to be… because everyone gets to decide how grateful they are willing to be.” (Ann VosKamp) And I know this spiritual sister is speaking truth, even though my heart still struggles at times to put it into practice. Because gratitude is precisely what we are free to choose– or not– in response to the circumstances we are given, and the way we respond shows what is in our hearts toward the Giver.

In his letters to the early churches, Paul writes it over and over again, rings out the insistent call: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) He hands out this command boldly, as the standard for believers, regardless of their circumstances. And given the circumstances of his own life, we can surmise that Paul was no rosy idealist about life; he had no illusions about how hard it could be to hold onto hope or contentment or joy. His answer to the hurting, to the lonely, to the failing and the fallen is the same: Rejoice in the One who loves you and will never leave you.

Just before the story of the lepers, Jesus’ followers ask Him how to increase their faith. I wonder if the story of the thankful man surprised them at all. The connection between faith and thanksgiving is probably not one that we would make on our own, yet it runs over and over through the Scriptures: thankfulness is an act of obedience and faith, the humble offering of a heart that recognizes its Maker and Healer. And it is thankfulness that enables us to persevere in faith through whatever comes. This Savior who answers our cries for mercy is the answer to all the hurts of this world, and because of His presence we can always rejoice, can always give thanks, no matter how hard our faith is tested.

But it’s a choice and we have to be willing to submit to what He has given this day, open our hands for what He supplies and be content there. Paul’s words stand firm: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9) The only certainty in this world is suffering; all else is Grace, and undeserved.

So maybe happiness is really up to me and I do get to decide, because while the circumstances are not in my control, my response to them is, and gratitude is always the best option. Choose to see Grace? Be willing to acknowledge the Giver’s goodness and provision in the midst of circumstances, and find happiness in His presence? I get to decide.

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Whatever happens to me each day is my daily bread, provided I do not refuse to take it from Thy hand and to feed upon it.

Francois de la Mothe Fenelon

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Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is….be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:15-17, 19-20

Miracles Await

I keep hearing people say how having the ordinary stripped away has made them realize what is truly important in life– cleared their vision, so to speak, and given them a new appreciation for the relationships that connect them. Having the world turned upside-down has also called many of us out of our comfort zones. No more daily commute, familiar office space, stores and gyms and running kids around– the routines that alternately bore or frustrate us, and provide the structure in our lives. It’s funny how the very things that can drive us crazy can be the security we cling to. Laying down our day planners, and trusting God to supply our needs, and spending evenings at home with our families may be a whole new adventure for many of us, and I wonder if it might not be just what we need right now.

Because there’s nothing like losing what you take for granted to make you appreciate it. It’s something our mothers knew very well, and used to their advantage when we were young. I guess somewhere in the growing up we forgot how easily things can be taken from us, and how useful are those lessons. So we live here in this strange season of change learning to be thankful all over again, remembering that Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17) We have fresh eyes to see all the little things that matter, and maybe even have the time to enjoy them. And this week dozens of homes are focusing on the good things, writing them down on refrigerator lists and journals and scraps of paper– reminding ourselves that all is grace, and there is a Father who loves us. Regardless of our circumstances or our feelings, we can give thanks because of Who He Is and what He has done for us. This is the miracle of Grace, that gratitude can flourish under any conditions. It is our offering of worship… our declaration of belonging to Him… our defense against the darkness.

The Church-planter Paul assures us that this one awakening to gratitude can lead us into many good places. He writes joyfully, If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32) Opening our eyes to be amazed at God’s overflowing provision opens our hearts to trust Him. Practicing gratitude as a spiritual discipline leads us to depend on Him instead of ourselves. Saying thanks invites the Giver into the situation. And when we acknowledge His right to be there, in the middle of whatever is happening, it allows Him to work with His great power to accomplish His plans there, as well. This is how we welcome the Almighty into our Everyday, by seeing His ever-presence and saying thank you.

And who knows where these small steps of obedience will lead us?

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I have wondered how often my refusal to obey, my hesitancy to go, or my action altered by my fear has kept the impossible impossible. How many opportunities have I missed to witness the miraculous because I didn’t listen or wouldn’t obey?

Kristen Welch

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And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:6-7

Prying My Fingers Loose

Originally published June 25, 2018.

It seems instinctive, this fear of loss, this near-stranglehold on what matters to us. Of course we’ve learned to cover it up well, to give it acceptable labels: we are concerned about the people we love; we value our friendships; we want to be good providers for our families; we want to take care of our health; we work hard and just want to unwind. We’ve learned to live with fear and to work it into our cultural norms quite well. But no one wants to dig below the surface and face the howling insecurities that drive us all.

So it goes against all sensibility, the way Abraham turned to Lot and said “Choose which land you think best for your flocks” as they looked out over the hills stretching away into the horizon– the land God had already given him.  And Lot chose and Abraham just nodded and let him go his way–Lot taking the best of land that wasn’t his to take and Abe giving what had been given, holding his Promised Land with open hands.

Makes me think about the things I hold onto, and why it is so hard to let go.

Maybe it’s the illusion of control when I hold onto things, the deception that still whispers that if I try hard enough I can shape my own destiny and keep my own heart safe, and the ones I love.  Because if I lose that security blanket (however flimsy) what is left is just me and my small concerns in a huge universe, at the mercy of the Creator, and is that really enough?  It is the same whisper of doubt that has echoed in the hearts of men since we first heard that lie in the Garden…. seems like we would have realized by now just Who is in charge, and how much better things were before we fell for that line.

But mostly it’s the fear of losing, when I hold onto things– fear that what is precious can be ruined and my heart can break at the loss.  Fear of not having enough that drives me to hoard and grab and fight for what is mine, like any starving child. Only it has far wider application than physical food; it’s about all the things I think I need: security, love, respect, significance, some meaning in this world. Life feels like a battle, most days, and we have all suffered casualties. We came right out of the Garden knowing how fragile life truly is, and how you can lose it all in a few warped moments. Ever since, we have been clutching onto everything good with both hands as it runs through our fingers, trying to hold on and never lose it again.

But Abraham didn’t, even though he had left home behind and come so far to get what had been promised him.  He knew that it was all gift anyway, so he let his nephew take what he wanted, and kept on trusting the Giver to be faithful to His promises. Traveling through the harsh desert should have made him more wary, more mindful of loss, but somehow blessings overflowed into thankfulness enough to fill up his heart and open his hands. It strikes me as the best way to live, out of wholeness and contentment instead of fear….the only way to live, if we truly believe that when we have God we have everything good that is needful, and all things are working together for good, according to His promise.

So pry these fingers loose from the things I can see and touch. Deliver me from the instinct of Self-preservation, and the fear of losing that springs from mortality.  Let me live in full thankfulness, because all is gift, and there is a Giver who does not grow weary; I do not need to hold on tight, because You hold me and all the things I love in Your own love-scarred hands.

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He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Romans 8:32

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The more I submit my desires to Jesus while letting go of outcomes, the more He seems to answer the deepest longings of my soul. His abundance always surpasses my imagination and fulfills the prayers I didn’t even know I needed to pray. 

Shelly Miller

On Choosing Celebration and Finding Joy

Originally published April 21, 2012.

I am reading through Paul’s letter to the Philippians at night, in a thick hardbound edition of The Message.  I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases Paul’s letters in fresh energetic language that jumps off the page with the sheer force of the writer’s personality.  I picture Paul a lot that way: colorful, energetic, passionate  and driven about his message to the point of being offensive at times….tact was clearly not his strong suit.  But then, when you are an itinerant preacher spreading the good news of salvation to the bulk of the civilized world in the first century, there are more pressing concerns than being “nice.”

I have been parked in chapter 4 for the past few nights.  The middle of that chapter is one of my very favorite “how to live” passages of Scripture anyway, but this week I have been captivated by the way Peterson phrases it: “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! “  I can picture PauI leaning forward, eyes alight.  His is the voice of experience– in a life without any of the comforts we prefer on a daily basis, he has discovered an ever-flowing fountain of joy, and urges his readers to search it out. Revel in God and there will be no more room for self-pity, or despair, or even run-of-the-mill grumpiness on general principles.  Celebrate the infinite God and you’ll never run out of joy, never come to the end of Him.

We are used to following our feelings, paying attention to them and letting them move us through life…it is the pattern of this world that we have conformed to since birth.  Has it never occurred to us that a woman’s hurt feelings are what got us into this mess to begin with?  And the more we follow our feelings the more mixed up our minds get.  What a surprise to Self to discover that God is far more concerned with our obedience than with our comfort.

No wonder most of Scripture’s practical how-to passages are teaching us how to stop listening to the feelings of Self and instead listen to the Spirit of God, be transformed by the renewing of the mind.  Think first, choose how to respond, then act in a way that pleases God, and the feelings will follow.

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” 

Philippians 4:6-7

I come back to this over and over, transfixed by that last line.  When I follow my feelings– focus on them and act out of them– I am putting them at the center of my life, making them an idol, letting them control me.  Worry?  Discouragement?  Fear?  Anger?  No good can come from following where they lead.

Choose to do this instead, Paul says… choose to offer up those feelings to the One who made them and put Him in the center of your life where He belongs.  Do this… choose this…it’s an act of the will, an act of obedience.  Let your mind be transformed by Jesus and lead you to what is right, and let the feelings tag along behind.  Paul even leaves me pointers on what to think about if I want a transformed mind– if I want to follow Christ instead of these tyrants of emotion: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8)

Simply put, I live best when I fill my mind with God’s truth… all He has done for me, all that He is… thankfulness and praise taking the lead.  It’s an every day kind of choice, and some days every minute.  So I keep coming back to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, soaking the reminders in, deep down to the heart.   It’s the best prescription there is for getting emotions back on track.

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When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse
    everything I know of You,
From Jordan depths to Hermon heights,
    including Mount Mizar.
Chaos calls to chaos,
    to the tune of whitewater rapids.
Your breaking surf, Your thundering breakers
    crash and crush me.
Then God promises to love me all day,
    sing songs all through the night!
    My life is God’s prayer.

Psalm 42:8, The Message

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Better is a moment that I spend with You
Than a million other days away
I’m running, I’m running
I’m running to the secret place
Hands are lifted high, hearts awake to life
We are satisfied here with You, here with You
Chains will hit the floor, broken lives restored
We couldn’t ask for more here with You, here with You

The Secret Place, Phil Wickham

Follow the Leader

I don’t know about you, but my emotions are usually the first to respond to a situation, and the last to catch on to what is actually true.  That’s why it’s best not to let them lead.

Modern society would argue that point loudly, thanks to the very successful efforts of the psychology movement in the last sixty to seventy years, which convinced almost everyone that in order to find truth and meaning in this world we needed to look deep inside ourselves.  Consequently, individual experiences and emotions and perspectives were elevated to new heights, and even Christian thinking took on a Self-tinged, relativistic hue. Life is deeper and richer because of our emotions, and it seems only natural to follow where those powerful tides pull us, right?

But a long time ago a wise man told me that doing the right thing depends on choosing to do it, regardless of how you feel. Let reason and faith inform your will, and let will bend in surrender to God, and the emotions will trail along behind until they gradually fall in line. (Unfortunately, he neglected to mention how fiercely said emotions would make themselves known….or what a battle it would be to consistently choose what is right against the tide of feeling….and how wearing a mask to show the right things on the outside is not the same thing as truly choosing…but that is another story altogether.) He was correct at the root of it all. You have to know what voices to listen to, know what can lead you well, if you want a good outcome. The Wise King agrees that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10) It’s reverence and knowledge of God that lead us to wisdom.

My feelings about a thing do not determine whether it is right or wrong…or even if it is real. My feelings are not the best informant on the value of something, or the wisdom or health of a decision. Feelings are just one more faculty of being, given by the Creator so I could have relationship with Him and with the people around me. Feelings are an important part of who He made me to be, but like every other part, need to be re-shaped day by day by His Spirit living in me. I know that things never end well when unchecked emotions are leading the way. No matter what I am feeling, I find that choosing to give thanks reminds me where to look– which direction I am heading– as if gratitude were a compass on this Faith-journey. .And it’s always remarkable how when you are lost in a sea of emotions, it is trusting God and accepting what He gives you that brings clarity to thinking, and orders your world.  A sister-mentor reminds “No one receives the peace of God without giving thanks to God.” (Ann VosKamp)

The patterns of this world might call for us to follow our hearts, no matter in what winding ways they lead. But Jesus is calling us to take up our cross and follow Him, and His is the narrow way that leads us straight Home.

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“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

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“Even when my strength is lost,
I’ll praise You.
Even when I have no song,
I’ll praise You.
Even when it’s hard to find the words–
Louder then I’ll sing Your praise…
I will only sing Your praise….

And my heart burns only for You–
You are all, You are all I want,
And my soul waits only for You;
And I will sing till the morning has come.”

(Even When It Hurts, Hillsong United)

The Things We Hold Onto

The Easter season has unfolded very naturally into our next study on Acceptance and Gratitude. It is freshly amazing how God fits things together in the Body-life of this church family– what we are processing, singing about, praying for– to meet individual needs at the right time. If you have eyes to see the big picture, it is really quite remarkable how the Spirit moves and breathes among us as we press on in our faith-journey.

So the fasting and repentance of Lent gives way to the joy of Resurrection Sunday, and green spreads over our hills, every little grave of Winter opening up to new life and growth. And as we celebrate what Christ did for us, may our hearts open up and pour right out in gratitude, the way Mary’s anointing fragrance poured out on the feet of Jesus– a surrender of her treasure…her security…her future. He knew what it cost her, knew the faith she was proclaiming without words. “She has done a beautiful thing to me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial,” Jesus said. (Matthew 26:10,12)

Shelly Miller points out that “Sacrificing what you love during Lent is like opening fisted hands into palms outstretched; laying out palms and waiting for Jesus to walk down the center of your busy life.”  There’s no escaping the fact that acceptance of God’s plans often means opening our hands in release: letting go of our ideas about what should happen, offering up our fears and our hurts, surrendering even our interpretation of circumstances to His better judgment. Because the things we hang onto tend to shape us in their image, and Jesus knows that what we need most is to be made new into His image. And when we let go, our hands are open to receive what He wants to give us, and there is more than we could expect.

So acceptance can’t help but lead to gratitude…or maybe it is the other way around, or even a full circle. And this woman who is supposed to remain invisible, sits and learns at Rabbi Jesus’ feet, and worships Him as the Messiah with her poured-out gift at the dinner table, and He publicly defends her actions, writes her down in history as one who proclaims His truth, while the men in the crowd are still arguing over how the money would be better spent, and deciding how far they are willing to follow Jesus. Trusting God’s way of doing things and having a thankful heart opens your spiritual eyes like nothing else.

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“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die. Do you believe this?'” (John 11:25-26)

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“You give life, You are love,
You bring light to the darkness;
 You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken…
Great are You, Lord.”

…It’s Your breath in our lungs,
So we pour out our praise to You only.”
(Great Are You Lord, David Leonard and Jason Ingram)

Sunday Is Coming

In this Passion week, with the all branches budding red towards the sky, and the flowers bursting forth from their Winter graves, we see for ourselves a tangible picture of the Savior making all things new with His suffering (passio in the Latin). And there is Hope in this Spring-time resurrecting. Not that we will find something to satisfy our hearts in this world after all, but that in Him we will have enough, and that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Life from death, joy from sorrow, reaping from our planting as surely as day follows the long night.

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“Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:12-13)

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“Peace be still, You are near;
There’s nowhere we can go
That You won’t shine redemption’s light.
Our guilt withdrawn–
As You rise, we come alive;
The grave has lost, the old is gone,
And You’re making all things new…
And we are free;
Hope is found, You are here.
Our hearts forever sealed
By this love that came for us;
Now we are Yours.
As You rise, we come alive,
And You’re making all things new…”
(All Things New, Elevation Worship)

Not my Will

Encouragement today from the precious reminder of our Savior’s wrestling in prayer with the emotions and limitations of His humanity as He approached the cross, and the gentle exhortation that all the Father requires is a willing heart. If we can pray through the pain, and continue to desire God’s will above our own, that is enough. We should not be too hard on ourselves for having either questions or weakness, as long as we are carrying them rightly to His feet. And He will pour out His own strength to carry us through whatever we are facing– even comfort us with His love, so that we do not lose hope.

The nineteenth-century British theologian E.B Pusey advised believers to have a one-prayer-fits-all approach to life. “Choose but the will of God, and thou willest with His wisdom, thou choosest with His all-perfect choice; thou enterest into His counsels; thou lovest with His love. Be this our watch-word, brethren, for the Church, for those we love, for our own souls….This shall hallow our hopes; this shall hush our fears; this shall ward off disquiet; this shall preserve our peace; this shall calm anxieties; this (if it must be) shall soothe our heart-aches; this shall give repose to our weariness…. ‘Lord, not what I will, but what Thou’; not what I, in my misery, and ignorance, and blindness, and sin, but what Thou, in Thy mercy, and holiness, and wisdom, and love.” It is the prayer that never fails.

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And [Jesus] withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:41-44)

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“Oh how I need Your grace,
More than my words can say;
Jesus I come, Jesus I come
In all my weaknesses,
You are my confidence;
Jesus I come, Jesus I come.”
(Jesus I Come, Elevation Worship)